As triathletes we are fairly comfortable with running. As a long distance aerobic monster that does Ironman type triathlons we can be rightly confident that a marathon won’t pose us many issues. Afterall, its just what we do for the cool down after a day out on the bike isn’t it? After a fairly drunken hen weekend with some runners my wife came home enthused about the idea of running her first. She sold it to me as a nice weekend away in Spain at the end of the year, a little bit of fun for me to round out my season. As the ever supportive husband I could only agree to the trip and help her get up to the required distance. This was all before KQ happened and in any case, it was my future self’s problem.
So Kona came and went. I had about two weeks off which left me with around three weeks to get back to running and turn my attention to Valencia. Ok, so the run in Kona didn’t quite go to plan and having only completed one stand alone marathon previously as a training day many many years ago, I was looking forward to the challenge. It was a kind of type 2 looking forward to it though. You know the kind where you realise its going to hurt and you don’t really know what to expect?
I did a few big training runs following Kona, they were all at a decent pace and if I could hold that then I would be over the moon. In fact, I equalled my half marathon PB two weekends on the trot in the middle of a long Sunday run. This kind of performance just a handful of weeks after an Ironman should probably have set some alarm bells off and to be honest, it did. I just chose to put the alarm on snooze mainly because it was too close to the marathon to do anything much about it. In any case, this was a bit of fun. If I massively bonked so be it – it would be a learning process. I had just finished in the top 1/3 of the worlds best Ironman athletes, how bad could I be at just running? Race weekend arrived and the logistical nightmare of getting to a race began. I left my packing late but once I had simply put my running shoes and some shorts in my bag it was done. Weird. Where was the two day build up of cleaning stuff, taking it apart, packing it carefully and making a sacrifice to the god of bike transfer so that it arrived on time and in one piece? ‘Any checked bags Sir?’ ‘er no,
hand luggage only thanks’. Surely this can’t be right – it’s not normal! I had to resist the urge to go and wait patiently with my head in my hands at oversize luggage. Then we got all three of us and bags into normal sized hire car – come on, this is too easy!!!
Registration etc were all a breeze, Valencia Marathon runs like clockwork and is superbly organised.
The setting for the race start and finish will take some beating, they are simply stunning.
Race morning and it was a leisurely early start, not a ridiculous Ironman one. A nice relaxed walk over to the start location and despite there being somewhere in excess of 30,000 competitors hardly any queuing or crowding. Bag drop was the best I have ever experienced, why can’t it always be like this?
With the niff naff done it was time to take stock of the situation as I took my position in the starting pen. There were some stark differences and it started to edge me further from my comfort zone than I expected. Firstly, at an Ironman sure there are skinny athletes but these racing snakes were a different kettle of fish.
You get into the habit of writing the super super skinny, wiry athletes off in a long distance triathlon as they will likely get blown away on the bike but here I was the odd one out and they were all looking at me like I had no chance of hanging with them. There is absolutely nothing in the form guide to say that the ‘clydesdale’ athlete cannot run fast but it seemed as if they had sorted the entry by size order and sent them all to the later pens. I presume that is where the fancy dress entries were (if there were any), I certainly hadn’t seen any like you would at London for example. I got the impression this was an actual running race!
I couldn’t see anyone dressed head to toe in Drag2Zero gear and unlike any modern triathlon not everyone was wearing Nike Next%. There were a lot of them but by no means the majority and what on earth is that guy wearing? Flipflops held on with a bit of string???!! I cannot get beaten by him. On the subject of kit – I thought running was a fairly basic sport and being from the far superior world of triathlon where we constantly invent kit to solve problems that don’t exist, we would have all the gear. It turns out that this isn’t the case at all. There was all sorts of stuff I hadn’t seen before or thought about and now I was panicking because someone in the race had it and I didn’t. Maybe its going to save them 20seconds over the race at a price of £3000?!
The other big difference that was immediately obvious was body hair. These people clearly didn’t know what a razor was and how much faster they could go after ten minutes with Mr Bic. I swear I was starting next to a grizzly bear!
As we edged closer to the line the tension didn’t build in the same ‘we are resigned to a horrible fate’ way it does pre Ironman swim. Where was Thunder Struck? People just crossed the line and got on with it. This was odd!
Off we went. It quickly became apparent that this was a race, not a cool down or war of attrition. Where I was in the field it was also fast and it stayed that way. Ok, so not fast as in real running terms but way faster than I have normally found myself running off the bike. No one walked the aid stations, no one was doing the ironman shuffle, no one was talking to each other and it was seriously crowded. Not once in 42km did I get clear tarmac in front of me. There was also a near constant smell of really bad body odour. I have never experienced this issue during a triathlon and it was not
endearing me to running races.
Half way round I needed the toilet. Normally during an Ironman I just do it on the fly. I am not proud of it, there is no glamour by that stage of the race and it is less degrading than you would think. I started nervously looking around to see how other people were dealing with the situation and quietly asking around if it was acceptable in this sport. Apparently it wasn’t acceptable so I made a beeline for the nearest portaloo narrowly avoiding a massive faux pas.
30km. My word this is a long way! I was so bored of just running and it hurts. Without the 5hrs of suffering on the bike to numb the pain before embarking on the run, the gradual build up was getting to torturous levels. Still 12km to go – it never feels this far normally. Weirdly my pace hasn’t fallen off a cliff yet and sadly, no one else seems to be in a mood for resorting to run walk either though so I guess I am going to have to grit my teeth a bit longer. I had already run 25km with the realisation that I was in no way, shape or from properly recovered from Kona.
35km. Here it is, now it really stings! Yeeha, race on! This is why we do this kinda stuff isn’t it? To feel the burn! I look around, no one else seems to be smiling – weirdo’s.
38km. Finally, I see someone wearing a tri suit. I spot his massive calf tat first of course. Maybe I will go say hello to a fellow triathlete. Oh wait, has he pee’d himself? Yes he has, what a rookie error! Best avoid him, he looks like he is going to crack any moment now anyway.
40km. I can sense the finish. The crowds are getting deeper and closing in on the course a bit, this is kinda cool. Two km left, it can still go badly wrong from here.
41km. I can see the big buildings near the finish across the smaller rooftops.
42km. Ok best start winding up my sprint finish! There isn’t one, I don’t have it. Neither does anyone else around me, these guys have paced it perfectly and the MC won’t be able to say something sarcastic like ’oooh, sprint finish. Could have tried harder’. I cross the line somewhere in the high 3000’s and I am happy to take that position. I am not a runner and I don’t belong here! After the finish it’s the fairly standard medal, water, beer conveyor belt. No food though which was disappointing. I chill out in the warm December sun and wait for my wife to cross the line. There isn’t much of the post race chat that you hear in the recovery tent after a triathlon but then I guess there isn’t that much to talk about. ‘Did you see that bit where I put my left foot in front of my right foot?’ ‘Yeh I did mate, that was ingenious’.
Incredibly in the throng, literally thousands of people crossing the line between 3:45 and 4:00, I spotted my wife and she looked happy. The clock was showing time from the first gun and I
reckoned she must have been 15 minutes behind that start so it was an epic result for her. Bag pick up, again no queue, a 100m walk to the car and we were out of there heading back to the
airport. There is a lot to be said for this single sport nonsense!
Two days on and my legs are still agony and I have not yet made friends with the stairs again. The act of actually running 42km without stops, a 5hr warm up, the occasional aid station walk and the guaranteed ironman shuffle certainly takes it toll on your body. I found this race as a standalone marathon harder to get my head around than in a triathlon and the physical output rather like an extended FTP test. Even though I felt a bit out of place I thoroughly enjoyed myself and given another shot at it without a Kona hangover I would be confident of going quicker.
As a coach I don’t think its necessary to complete a marathon in training pre Ironman but I can certainly see that from a confidence point of view, knowing you can go the distance is a big achievement. It will take a huge amount of recovery time though so make sure it is early in the year. If you have the time and motivation to train POST your triathlon then give it a go towards the end of your season, it is good to see how the other half live and you will learn a lot.
The best bit about the whole marathon experience…………? Now that it is over, I can go back to riding my bike.